Thursday, April 19, 2018

Blink and It's Over

When anticipating a vacation, I am always completely delusional about what it will be like.  I imagine myself with no time constraints, able to endlessly blog and sleep and explore, without ever having to choose between different activities.  The reality, of course, is not that.  There is always more to do than there is time, and vacations eventually end, thus tonight is my last night in Paris and I haven't blogged in two weeks.  I assure anyone who hasn't been following me on Twitter that yes, I have been having a fabulous time, and yes, I have been eating ridiculous numbers of pastries.

This has been a really, really good trip.  There have been moments when I have felt lonely, and more than once I have seriously considered going to a cat cafe for some feline attention, but overall it has been good to travel alone.  The introvert in me had been craving silence, long stretches of time without having to answer to anyone, and the past three weeks have been exactly that.  My mind has been able to wander wherever it wants, and I have had time to think and think and think about all the big questions in my life.  It has been good.

And of course, I have seen things!  So, so many things.  On my last day in Caen, I took a tour of the Canadian D-Day beaches, and then I went to Dijon, where I slept a lot and drank wine on the couch and did a bit of wandering through the historic city.  In Paris I have been all over the place:  the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Shakespeare and Co, the Musée d'Orsay, the Natural History Museum, Sacre-Coeur, Montmartre, the Curie Museum, and the Army Museum.  It has been delightfully nerdy, in both a scientific and a historical way, which suits me perfectly.

I haven't done as well with my French as I had hopped.  I struggle a lot with verbal comprehension, and the accents are different from the ones that I am used to, so I have said "Désolé, je ne comprends pas" and "Pouvez-vous repétér ça, s'il vous plaît?" more times than I can count.  (Actually, I have mostly just contorted my face painfully and made awkward sounds, which is the introvert's way of saying "I don't understand".)  But I have learned new words, thanks to reading every street sign and countless museum displays, and my ability to understand written French is getting better quickly.

(Yesterday's word of the day was "ruche", as in hive, which I learned from this beehive at the Natural History Museum.  Yup...I am a nerd.*)

There have been moments on the trip when I have considered giving up on learning French, as it is frustrating to see how far I still have to go before I will be functionally fluent.  But then, I wander into a bookstore and walk out with The Handmaid's Tail in French (La servante écarlate), and I think that the learning will continue.  I dream of living in Europe for at least a year in retirement, and if I continue to plug at it for the next 7+ years, I can hopefully be functional by then.

(Also, there is a cute lesbian in my conversational French group.  Not that that's a reason to learn a language...)

So...that is my trip in a very small nutshell.  I will try to post some more pictures, although I dread the volume of work that awaits my return to work, so I make no promises.  There is part of me that is resentful of the fact that I need to go back to work, but mostly right now I am incredibly grateful to have been able to do this.  I know how fortunate I am that this is my life.

*When I was a kid, my Dad used to play a silly game in which he would ask what letter a word started with, and when I would reply "B" he would scream "A bee!  Bzzzzzzzzz!" and pretend that his hand was a buzzing bee.  Since studying French, whenever I try to remember the word for bee, I will scream "Une abeille!  Bzzzzzzzzzz!".  Thankfully I have learned to scream this in my head when I am in public.

Friday, April 6, 2018

And Then I Went to Caen

This trip continues to whirl by.  As mentioned in my previous post, I had terrible internet access in Caen, so I basically gave up on posting to my blog or even Facebook for the entire time I was there (I did manage to post a few photos of the tasty food to Twitter).  I am now in Dijon, and I have internet access again, so I will make more of an effort to post.  But there is so much to do, it's hard to tear myself away from the doing!

Caen was not an intentional destination for me.  While searching through places to visit in France, I fell in love with the tiny seaside town of Honfleur, and decided to use Caen as a home base for visiting Honfleur, which is accessible only by a very long bus ride*.  When I arrived in Caen, I actually wondered if there would be enough for me to do there.  And yes, there was more than enough.  I needn't have worried.

Caen's main draw is as a site for World War II history.  Almost 80% of the city was destroyed by Allied bombings around the time of D-Day, so it contains a lot of buildings that were rebuilt after the war, as well as many that still show major signs of damage.

(A photo of the church down the street from my apartment (Église Saint-Jean) following the bombing.)

(Although most of the church has been rebuilt, this tower still shows evidence of the damage.)

(Another church in Caen that was so badly damaged that they didn't even try to rebuild it.)

It was surreal to see partial remains of churches and to walk through the Abbaye-aux-Hommes (Men's Abbey), which is the burial site of William the Conquerer ("Guillaume le Conquérant") and also a place where the citizens of Caen took refuge during weeks of bombings.

For me, the best but also most difficult part of the visit was going to the Memorial de Caen, which is an amazing WWII museum.  It covers the history of Europe post-WWI, the rise of fascism**, the German military campaigns, the concentration camps, and the eventual liberation of Europe starting with D-Day and the Battle of Normandy.  It was amongst the best museums I've ever visited.

Reading about the concentration camps, seeing the photos and records of what people did to other people, breaks me a bit every time.

But when I see what physicians did?  That's when I ugly cry in the corner.

*In the end, I didn't even go to Honfleur, as I decided that I didn't want to spend 5 hours on a bus when I could instead use the time to see more of Caen.  Je ne regrette rien.

**The parallels between the rise of fascism and what's happening in the US right now are terrifying.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Lyon to Caen - Jet Lag Ends Eventually, Right?

I thought that the jet lag was bad for the first two days, but really it wasn't.  I had lots of adrenaline and a desire to see everything in Lyon, which kept me excited in spite of the overwhelming urge to fall asleep in the middle of the afternoon.

My jet lag really kicked in during my five-hour train ride from Lyon to Caen today.  Oh my goodness, it felt like I was post-overnight call for the first time in five years.  No amount of reading or internetting or listening to good music could keep me from dozing off and leaning precariously into the middle aisle of the train.  (Over and over.  I think my neck is going to be sore from snapping backwards every time I dozed off.)

I almost didn't make it to Caen.  I left myself lots of time to get to my first train*, but I hadn't realized that the receipt I had printed out was not an actual ticket, so at the last minute I was scrambling to download an e-ticket on my phone.  And then I had an hour to switch trains in Paris, which would have been fine except that I had to take the metro between stations, which got me to the second station less than 30 minutes before my train.  And then I couldn't download my next e-ticket.  So I stood in a very long ticket line, watching the time until my train departed disappear and panicking, until I got so nervous that I asked the person in front of me if I could cut ahead**.  Unfortunately, seemingly everyone was trying to get on the same train, so no, I couldn't cut ahead of anyone. Thankfully, about 5 minutes before the train, my phone suddenly cooperated, and I was able to access my ticket.  If it hadn't, I might still be in Paris trying to get a later train out.

But anyway....after a lot of head bobbing and drooling on my fleece, I arrived in Caen, where pretty much everything is closed for Easter Monday.  I really didn't want to eat more cheese and bread for supper***, so I was quite happy to discover an open Vietnamese restaurant around the corner from my B and B.  Not what I was expecting to have for supper on my third day in France, but it was surprisingly tasty.

So that was my day....I didn't blog about yesterday, as I got home from supper very late, but here are some photos to hopefully make up for it.

The meeting place for my morning walking tour (walking tour #2 and pain au chocolat #2):

One of the two open-air markets we saw on the tour:

A view of the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière, as well as part of the city: 

The Hotel de Ville (City Hall) on the walking tour, complete with participants in the race that was run roughly along the route of our walking tour.

After the walking tour, I visited some Roman ruins.  But no photos of them for you, as my B and B has no internet (how is this a thing?), and my phone internet can only handle uploading so many photos.

After the ruins, I took a long walk up the hill to the Basilica.  A view from the outside:

(The views from the inside are also being held captive on my computer.)

I ended my day at the Museum of the Resistance and Deportation.  A photo of WWII refugees from Paris, who had been relocated to Lyon:

Hmmm....maybe I'm actually tired because I'm trying to do so much every day?  I'm sure I'll do better tomorrow.  During my one day in Caen.  Cause there isn't much to do here...

*I also had lots of time to eat anglais abricots, a pastry that I might like better than pain au chocolat...I'll let you know after a few more comparisons.

 **This is unusual for me, as I don't generally like talking to strangers, and I find it extra hard to do in French.

***Yes, I have already reached the point of my trip at which I'm whining about having to eat the same thing two meals in a row.  I blame the jet lag.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Lyon - Overcoming Jet Lag

Although I did a tremendous amount of thinking about my trip before leaving Canada, I had made almost no firm commitments* prior to the trip.  I know myself, and I know that my energy level and interests vary widely from day to day, so I tend to build a lot of flexibility into my travel schedule whenever possible.  Yesterday, however, I realized that I was going to need something to motivate me to get my jet lagged ass out of bed this morning, so I wisely booked myself for a 10 am walking tour.

After forcing my sleepy body to stay awake until 10:30 last night, I was wide awake at 3 am this morning.  It took me almost 2 hours of thinking about Twitter, blog posts, my travel plans, and all the ills in the world before I finally fell back asleep, but by the time my alarm went off at 7:45 am, I had reentered a sleep so deep that I felt ill on waking. If I hadn't booked the tour and made plans for breakfast, I don't know when I would've dragged myself out of bed.

But drag myself out I did, and I was early enough for my tour to be able to start my day with the best pain au chocolat I've ever eaten**.  Followed by an awesome café (French for coffee...not the whole café).  And then at 10 am, I went on a tour of Le Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon) with a group of about 20 other people.  

We saw the cathedral, les traboules (pass-throughs), lots of old buildings, and one of the rivers.  (Either le Rhône or le Saône.  I am incapable of reading maps.  But it was a really pretty river.) 

I learned that Marie Antoinette actually said "Let them eat brioche" (or more accurately, "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche") and not "Let them eat cake".  I also learned that many of the Catholic monuments of Lyon were damaged by Protestants after the Reformation, like this random statue in one of the streets.

And I learned that the word fascism comes from the word fascio, meaning a bundle of rods.  Fascio were originally a symbol of the strength that comes from unity, as a single rod is easily broken, while a bundle of rods is not.  Sadly, this beautiful imagery was co-opted by Mussolini, and now depictions of fascio are frowned on.  Bloody fascists ruin everything.

After the really good walking tour ended, I went to a bouchon that was recommended by the tour guide, where I ate the best piece of lamb I have ever eaten.  Followed by a pretty amazing dessert.  It was so much food that I literally didn't feel the slightest bit hungry for another six and a half hours.  I had planned to have a nice dinner out, including 2 Euro crèpes from a nearby crèpe stand, but I barely managed to eat a bit of cheese and bread.  I probably would have skipped dinner entirely if I hadn't been afraid of waking up ravenous at 3 am.

In the afternoon, I continued to nerd by going to the city's historical museum.  It was interesting to see the local perspective on major events from France's history, but I timed my visit very poorly.  I spent hours photographing the remains of old churches and scales from the city's history as a trading post, such that by the time I hit the really interesting World War I and II sections, all I wanted to do was lie down.  But with a few long sits in the museum's chairs (and possibly an upright nap), I made it to the end.

I even had enough energy for a quick visit to the adjacent puppet (marionette) museum, which is included in the ticket price.

The original Mr. Rogers.

By the end of the second museum, I was done for the day.  Thanks to the city's efficient Metro system, I was back in my apartment by 7 PM, where I have been internetting and rubbing my feet ever since.

It was a really, really lovely day.

And tomorrow, there is more!  I am going on another walking tour, because I enjoyed today's so much.  I'm not entirely sure what I am going to do after...I want to visit the cathedral again, as well as go to the Basilica de Notre Dame, the prison museum, the science museum, and the resistance museum.  And I can't.  But I leave Lyon on Monday, so I will have to make choices.

Come back tomorrow night (maybe) to see what I pick!

*This is perhaps a stretch.  I booked all my Airbnbs and train tickets in advance.  But the only actual activity I had booked was a tour of the Canadian D-day beaches, because they are extremely hard to find.

**Most of my food photos are being taken on my iPhone and tweeted in real time, so if you want to see pictures of food (yes, you do), follow me on Twitter (Frugalish Physician@FrugalishMD).  I'm not being a savvy blogger in forcing you to look at Twitter for food photos; I actually have no idea how to transfer photos from my iPhone to my computer.  Yeah.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Bienvenue à France

Oh look...I've had another gap in my blogging for the past month.  I blame a lot of busyness from getting work tied up enough to go on vacation, a little bit of end of winter blahs, and way too much Twitter.  Thanks to those of you who have commented that you missed my blogging!  It's always good to know that I am appreciated, and I will try to do better.

Tonight may not be the night to do much better, unfortunately.  I have been awake and traveling for the better part of 30 hours, and I keep dozing off in bed.  The only reasons I'm making time for this now is that 1) I'm hoping to blog more about my trip, and I feel a need for a post that will transition me into blogging about travel, and 2) 9 PM seems a little too early to go to sleep.  So I will attempt a post.

I have been looking forward to my trip to France for months.  I started taking French lessons in preparation about 7 months ago, and in my typical fashion I have been scouring travel guides and Trip Advisor and Atlas Obscura for ideas for about as long.  I have been ready to go for weeks.

When I looked ahead to the trip, for some strange reason I anticipated that I would feel very comfortable here.  I imagined myself effortlessly reading all the signs and directions, and I could picture myself casually striking up conversations with store owners ("Pouvez-vous me recommander un très bon fromage?").  I don't know why I envisioned things this way, because I am anxious and socially awkward in my own city where I speak the language fluently, but the fantasy of language and cultural competence was strong with me.

What has happened so far has been much more in line with the person I tend to be.  While I have been navigating signage and ticket kiosks quite well, I have been pretty avoidant of actual interactions with real human beings.  I have said awkward "Bonjours!" and "Saluts!" to store owners, but I have otherwise mostly kept my head down and tried not to engage.  As much as I want to be practicing my French and taking advantage of this opportunity, my social anxiety is rearing its ugly head and keeping me quiet.'s only day one.  And I am horribly exhausted and jet lagged.  I will not likely reach a point of comfort with talking to people in French before the end of this trip, but hopefully a day or two of adjustment will make me more willing to talk.  Because with a glass of good French wine, I am actually half decent with my French.

If you're on Twitter, please follow my adventures in France at Frugalish Physician@FrugalishMD.  (Thanks to the anonymous commenter who pointed out that I had originally entered a totally incorrect half email/half Twitter name here.  Jet lag!  Yay.)  I will be posting photos and random musings and other things there.  But I will also do my best to post some substantial posts (complete with photos) here!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Solitary Diner is Famous!

I'm featured in a guest post today at Chief Mom Officer.  Head over and take a look!

And if you've found my site through CMO, welcome.  Leave me a comment so I know who you are.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Trading Money for Happiness

Like any good HSP, I don't like to be too busy.  Long to-do lists and piles of unfinished work make me anxious.  Extended periods on call break me a little mentally.  I'm not entirely sure how I survived residency, in retrospect.

As an attending, my happiness is affected a lot by the call schedule.  When the 2018 call schedule came out last year, I was initially ecstatic:  no less than a month between blocks of call*, all of my requested days off, and Christmas off for the second year in a row.  I was a tiny bit disappointed to see that I was working a lot of the long weekends, but that was a small sacrifice for what was otherwise pretty much the best call schedule I could ask for.

And then a revision came out.  And suddenly I was doing two extra weeks of call, with only a two-week break before I had to do my next stretch of call.  And the second stretch of call was immediately before my trip to France, meaning that I would be going into vacation tired and inevitably behind at work.

I was not happy.  I angrily** emailed the person in charge of making the call schedule to try to get it changed, but she had clearly had enough of dealing with demanding physicians, and she told me that I would have to find someone to switch with myself.  She was done.

So I studied the call schedule, looking for someone with whom I could switch one of my dreaded call periods.  There were a few options that would make things better, but all of them had at least one drawback:  during my beloved theatre festival, right before a major presentation, too close to another call period.  No matter how I switched them, the two extra weeks were going to make some stretch of my year miserable.

And then it occurred to me that I could just get rid of them.  Call is as lucrative as it is unpleasant, and there are other physicians who value money more than I do.  A few quick emails, and two weeks of call were gone.

The moment I got the email confirming that someone else was taking my call, I felt light.  I hadn't even realized how stressed I was feeling about my schedule until suddenly it was reasonable again.  I felt the tiniest bit of regret about the money I would lose out on, because I still have a line of credit to pay off and retirement savings to build, but it was tiny.  So tiny.

Having just come off a two-week stretch of call, I am currently even happier than I was initially about my decision to give up the extra weeks.  Even though I like the inpatient work that I do, I have spent the past two weeks counting down the days (and sometimes hours) until I would be able to turn off my pager.  I have hated the constant anxiety that comes from not knowing when I would get paged or what new challenge I would have to deal with next.  I need my downtime to be happy and healthy, and two weeks with none of it is hard.

This is what financial freedom means to me.  The ability to say "This is not worth the money" and walk away from something that makes me miserable.  Two weeks with no call is sweeter than any big house or fancy car will ever be.

*We do 1-2 weeks of call at a time for a total of about 10 weeks per year.

**Not really.  I am not an angry person.  At worst I am slightly passive-aggressive, and even then I'm mostly passive.